As a foodie and amateur chef with a passion for Digital, I can’t help but be touched, specially when this comes from one of the biggest talents in my home town.
It is no secret that Digital in general and Mobile in particular are changing the way we understand and consume technology, and it is helping businesses transform their business model by enabling completely new ways of engaging Customers and helping create new products, services and completely transforming the Customer experience.
I have always believed in Gastronomy being a holistic experience, one that goes far beyond the quality that gets delivered on the plate, but rather comes from every single detail in the venue, the attention and knowledge of the staff and dozens of other subtleties that make up an experience. Everywhere I see the word experience I wonder how Digital can help transform and enhance it, and I have to admit this is just one space where I struggled to find a way for doing so. Until now.
This is just a completely unexpected and lovely way of using Digital to improve the experience in one of the best tables in the world. Arzak, featuring three Michelin Stars, is using iPads to help gourmet diners dive into a more immersive experience by serving culinary creations on tablets showing images that follow the theme. Sea images for food and fire for grilled meat are just two examples.
I’m touched. And booked for my next trip home.
Today I attended a very interesting session about Customer Service, in which it was made clear that customers expect more than service excellence, they want to be delighted. Apparently customer expectations have gone to a complete new
level, in which Customer satisfaction is now worthless, customers expect that their needs are anticipated, they want to be surprised well beyond their expectations.
We all try to differentiate from our competitors by improving and continuously improving our products, services and processes, implementing better and more sophisticated technologies that enable us to do more with less, but this, by itself, does not bring customer satisfaction, furthermore, it does not delight our customers. No matter how good our systems and processes are, most of your experience as a customer will be down to the person that managed the interaction with us. This will determine whether you will be satisfied or not. Even though, Customer satisfaction is no longer enough. It is now necessary to delight the customer, which is down to how you make your customer feel throughout the whole interaction. Whether you are able to anticipate their needs, and create that wow factor that will be long remembered after the interaction.
The shortest distance between two persons is a smile
Yes, technology can help provide the necessary tools for staff to be more efficient and provide a better service. It is a necessary, yet not sufficient condition for delighting your customers. It is down to the physiology of your customer facing staff, the way the talk, the way the make eye contact and above all, the way they smile. And this is not something that is taught in a customer service training, it is something that needs to be part of the DNA of the Organization. It is the face that you have when you arrive at work that will be seen -and remembered- by your customers. What differentiates good companies from great companies is precisely that, their staff, and how the culture they breath every day influences them, which will ultimately determine how genuine their smile. After all there is nothing worse than a clearly fake smile right?.
As the session went by, I started remembering a few past experiences in one of my favorite companies, Singapore Airlines. Air travel is by nature very anonymous, as you share a small space with a few other hundreds of passengers, and crew see hundreds, if not thousands of customers every week. This seems to be the perfect base of an impersonal service. Yet after so many flights I still get impressed by how they are able to transform an anonymous experience into a personal one. And how they are still able to create that wow factor, by going that extra few miles that are not in any onboard service manual. It is not only about saying please or thank you, it is about genuinely and generously keeping your ego to yourself and letting customers have their moment.
Not all crew are the same, of course, and there are always good and bad days. But one thing (and I say this by personal experience), these guys are just doing it right and they have managed to create a whole corporate culture around customer service that clearly pays off. The most remarkable flight I have had onboard any Singapore Airlines plane will not be remembered by the quality of the seat, the food, the amount of champagne of the movies offered on the entertainment system. It will be remembered by how genuinely the crew smiled and took care of me throughout the flight, and how they went well beyond the service manual to make sure I enjoyed the experience.
Once I was told that the only thing that truly can differentiate ourselves from our competition, and that can not be copied by them is the human being and their attitude. The session today was all about it, and I can only tell by personal experience that it is very true.
Sometimes, implications are hidden by the glowing success of certain new technologies. This is exactly what is happening with the current smartphones, or I would better say AppPhones. A trend opened by Apple in 2007 when the first iPhone was launched, ever since then most of the companies providing end customer services through smartphones are choosing to do it over native applications that are downloaded from their respective application store.
So far nothing wrong with this, actually from an end user perspective I am personally a great fan of this way of delivering contents and services, as they can provide an incredible user experience as well as providing full integration with the smartphone features like the camera, in-built GPS, compass and whatever will come in the next generations, with NFC chips already knocking on the door.
A bit of history
It is, however, when you look at the evolution of technology in the last few decades that you find this trend quite curious, as it implies effectively going against some of the basic principles we have been enacting for long years.
Think about traditional systems up to the 80’s where client-server computing used to be the rule. No middleware systems in between, and full blown applications (with exceptions like mainframes accessed through emulators) installed in end users computers.
The web comes in the 90’s, and soon browser-based, thin client computing is understood to be the way to go. Numerous advantages, like eliminating the error-prone processes of software distribution and patching the distributed applications. Looked very good and actually was (and still is) the rule up to nowadays. Except for mobile applications.
Back for good, sometimes
Back to client-server architectures, albeit in most of the cases a middleware will be paving the way between the client application and the back end systems, but client-server, anyway. It must be said, though, that the traditional burdens of distributed computing have been brilliantly solved by the companies ruling the mobile platform industry, with simplified application download, update, install and uninstall processes that eliminate nearly all the issues while maintaining all the advantages of native applications in terms of responsiveness and user experience. So brilliant is the concept of an Application Store or Marketplace, that I bet we will be seeing more applications for this concept outside the mobile ecosystem.
So back for good, I would say, in this case.
Back to square one, in others
Another traditional battle, specially since the early days of the web, has been standardization. Not only a problem for users who had the freedom to choose their browser of choice, but also for developers which had to write, test and maintain
code for many different browsers which did their own interpretations of the existing standards. This had improved in the last years though through greater standardization, so now we could talk about tuned versions of the same development rather than multiplied developments for different browsers.
Now think about mobile applications from this perspective, and here is where I see clearly a return to the beginning. Multiple platforms, with no grounds in common and even different programming languages, means that a company developing an application for Apple, Android and RIM devices, needs effectively to write 3 different applications. Of course design and some coding frameworks will surely be reused, but most of the work needs to be redone. Promising frameworks are out there to help bridge this gap, however, it looks that in this case we are back to square one.
It has now been a while since tablets made their way through. The concept has been flying around for some time, but only came to become a massive thing in April 2010 after Apple presented the iPad in public. It has been hardly 18months since then, and now the market is fully populated by a number of manufacturers which are pushing different visions of the concept into the market.
When you look at the evolution of the super-sized iPhone, it is really surprising to see how fast and deep it has come into our lives. From the original and probably most widely use of the pad as a browsing device, news reader and of course, gaming companion, there has been an incredible evolution in the uses of not only the iPad but the tablet concept in general.
Now most of the companies publishing consumer applications for SmartPhones are developing specific variants for tablets making good use of the larger screen and interaction capabilities of these devices. Look at Banks and you will see a fierce competition to target applications to their higher end customers based on tablets, where the graphical capabilities and the touch-based interaction model redefine a completely new stage in user experience.
But all of the above is just the somehow natural (although fast) evolution in the usage of the technology. However, there is one other aspect of this technology that looks very interesting to me, and is the impact these devices (and why not recognize it, specifically the iPad) is having in the Enterprise world.
It seems that the way Execs have fallen in love with the device is helping drive the way into the Enterprise at a speed and path that is breaking most of the existing paradigms. The debate is no longer whether a device is appropriate or not for its introduction into the Enterprise, but rather the other way around. And this is happening really quickly. So now employees are allowed to use their iPads at work, capture notes in meetings, read email in their tablets rather than in their corporate laptops and do almost everything except probably content (documents, presentations, spreadsheets) without the need of a full blown computer.
How many laptops could you see in a meeting of the Board?. You would be surprised by the number of iPads. Does this have a real impact in decission making and access to information in these forums? Very probably yes. So this is being a real driver with real examples out there like Standard Chartered Bank.
So this new revolution is bringing to life concepts like Bring your own device and Self Service IT with which large Corporations have been struggling for some time, but all of this seems to be finding a fast track as the demand from the technology comes top down, which is just the contrary to how normally technology gets into an Enterprise. Can this be the next big thing?.
Now that geolocation is massively present in our lives, and used on lots of mobile applications, a new hot topic in mobile technology seems to be coming. It is indoor, short range location.
Some time ago I discovered that in a popular supermarket in Singapore the shopping carts had an LCD screen that showed information relevant to the section you were walking through at that point in time. At first I thought “well, the latest form of publicity in the kingdom of advertisement”, something fancy, but just that. Or was it something else?. Are they just showing you offers that are at the reach of your fingertips, or are they doing something else?. What if they are tracking the movements of the cart by some sort of indoor-GPS so they can know what are the shopping and movement patterns of the visitors?.
This seems like a very interesting application to every public space that receives visitors or customers, as it provides a very useful and detailed insight of the movements of the visitors within the space, also being able to detect hot spots that draw visitors attention, what are the places, on the other hand, that are barely visited, and many other parameters that define the analytics of how users move themselves in any open space.
So probably these guys are not just offering me the current promotion on house wines as I walk by the spirits section, but they are actually tracking, recording, and analyzing all my movements in the store. This way they can know where do I spend more time, whether I come back to a section where I have been before, maybe indicating the products are not too clearly shown as I needed to come back and find something.
The technology seems to be very interesting in its practical applications, but in this particular case it is very probably based on RFID, which means that each cart probably has a passive RFID and they have a number of receivers in the store to track our movements. Not rocket science, definitely, but a very intelligent way of having some insight onto an otherwise very complex problem to resolve.
Removing the cart
Having recognized the value of indoor location and visitor tracking, we can imagine a lot of applications for this, virtually anywhere subject to receiving visits of customers. Airports, Supermarkets, any type of stores, even bank branches can benefit of this to optimize resources and know what are the patterns that drive customer behaviour in real life interactions -as opposed to virtual interactions over the internet, which are much easier to track-.
But the fundamental limitation seems to be how do we stick our customers and visitors to an RFID. Easy in the case of a supermarket where you are very likely to pick a shopping cart, but complicated in many other situations. However, there seems to be some possibilities in using three forms of signals that your mobile phone can be publicly sharing: TMSI (Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity), Bluetooth and Wi Fi. Whilst Bluetooth and Wi Fi depend on the user having this feature activated on the phone, they are quite good sources of information to perform indoor tracking.
However the first one seems to have a broader application, as it is first anonymous, resolving the traditional privacy issue of location and tracking, and second, is always active. It is based on a regular communication all mobiles perform with their base stations in order to report their location. These communications can be picked by indoor antennas and can be used for locating the position of the user with a precision down to 1-2 m. Good enough isn’t it?.
There is a very interesting paper that describes this technology in detail as well as providing a pilot study with very interesting results. As stated in the paper, this is the having Google Analytics for real life customer interactions…
I must admit that when I first got introduced to Microsoft Surface 2 a few weeks back in a Microsoft event I was a bit skeptical about its potential applications. Maybe it’s the size or the price tag, but after reflecting on it a bit I think there is one
fundamental thing in which it can be extremely useful. Breaking the screen barrier. If you think about customer interactions, a big number of them happen in front of a counter or desk, where the an agent is normally looking at some information in a computer screen in order to complete a transaction, hotel or flight check-in… What about configuring your new car with the sales agent?.
I do find this situation a bit odd, as the screen is not shared, so the customer experience is somehow affected by this barrier. This is precisely where Surface can bring a completely new customer experience by allowing the customer and the agent share the same screen, not only by placing the screen in a horizontal manner, but also not having a default orientation. This means that content can be placed, rotated, fliped, etc. so it can be looked from any angle. This is new. So now you have your customer and your agent interacting with exactly the same information. The multi touch experience adds so this, actually Surface can handle up to 50 simultaneous touch points, and that is a lot of fingers.
When you think about it, this can be really have a great impact in your whole customer interactions. Imagine a financial planning session with your relationship manager in your bank, looking at the same widgets, market reports and graphs, your expenses and investments, your risk profiling. You can now have all these elements in the screen, and they can be placed, moved around, zoomed, all in a shared manner. Or maybe you are checking in for your next flight, so no longer you are looking over a counter where the airline staff key in cryptic commands in order to find you your preferred seat. Now both of you can share the same screen, look at the seatmap, use gestures to zoom and pan around it.
Actually Surface 2 brings a lot more than the ability to look at a screen from many angles and have multiple interactions with it. It opens a whole new way of human to computer interaction. Actually the screen not only recognizes your touch, but can also see you. Or any object placed on it. This opens yet another completely new dimension, but I admit I need more thinking into it before I can imagine practical applications. However, I still wanted to share the customer interaction bit which is more due to the form factor and the multi touch capabilities rather than the new Pixel Sense technology which brings the vision capability.
Now just imagine a 15 inch Surface and you have something that can fit on every customer service counter and deploy massively into branches, airports and hotels.